The new District 10-2A Division II appears to be Arp's world, and everybody else is just living in it.

The Tigers are primed for a big season with proven skill players at multiple spots, including Michael Roberson, Mikechell Potts, and Marcalas Johnson. But who's going to play quarterback, the spot Kyle Copeland (Air Force) inhabited the last three seasons?

Don't overlook Frankston and West Rusk. Both should be playoff teams, and the fight for second place could be fun.

1.Arp Tigers

Coach: Dale Irwin (10th season, 72-35; 77-40 overall)

2011 Record: 10-3 (2A Division II Region III finalist; lost 47-20 to Lexington)

Returning starters: 5 offensive (split-back veer), 4 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • WR Michael Roberson, Sr., 5-9, 165 (26 catches, 446 yards, 3 TDs; 96 tackles, 7 INTs, 2 def. TDs)
  • RB Marcalas Johnson, Soph., 5-9, 175 (55 carries, 515 yards, 10 TDs in 5 games; 19 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF)
  • RB/LB John Hawkins, Jr., 6-1, 195 (32 carries, 243 yards, 2 TDs; 75 tackles, 2 INTs)
  • RB Mikechell Potts, Sr., 5-7, 155 (119 carries, 825 yards, 13 TDs)
  • DE Sam Stroupe, Sr., 6-2, 205 (39 tackles, 3 for loss, 3 FF)
  • OLB Jeremy Shelton, Sr., (49 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FR)
  • LB Mason Bobbitt, Sr., 6-0, 200 (28 tackles)
  • DT Cory Ayers, Sr., 6-0, 240 (56 tackles, 2 FF, 1 FR)
  • OT Brandon Perez, Sr., 5-10, 250
  • OT Dimitri Bowie, Sr., 5-9, 240

Strengths: Athleticism. Michael Roberson is among the most versatile players in the region. He’s a threat to score through the air, on the ground, in the return game and even on defense. Then there’s the three capable tailbacks 10th-year coach Dale Irwin has at his disposable. Mikechell Potts, Marcalas Johnson and John Hawkins combined for 1,583 rushing yards, 25 touchdowns and 7.7 yards per carry. Potts will likely start out as the No. 1 option, but Johnson could be a difference-maker as only a sophomore, and Hawkins made a big impact a season ago on defense as a sophomore. On paper, the Tigers appear more than capable to compensate for the graduation of Kasey McClendon, one of their top offensive weapons the past couple of seasons.

Weaknesses: Quarterback, experience. While the ball-carrying and playmaking options are set, the quarterback position is not. Kyle Copeland (Air Force) graduated after starting for the last three years, so filling his spot won’t be easy. Arp went 28-11 during Copeland’s tenure at QB. The Tigers have good experience in the places that may provide the most points, as well as a few spots on the lines, but only nine starters are back, four of which fall on the defensive side of the ball, and only 10 lettermen return from last year’s 10-win regional finalist team.

2012 Outlook: Arp is the clear favorite to win the District 10-2A Division II title and earn another first-round playoff bye. Roberson and the trio of running backs are all in line for big seasons, but their veteran presence must usher in new faces to fill in the holes left by graduation, especially at the quarterback position. If the new QB can provide some sort of balance in the passing game to what may be a devastating ground game, then watch out. The Tigers could live up to and possibly exceed their Division II preseason ranking of No. 4 in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine. Arp is definitely a team to keep an eye on come November.

 

2.Frankston Indians

Coach: Matt Nally (first season)

2011 Record: 4-7 (2A Division II Region III bi-district finalist; lost 41-38 to New Waverly)

Returning starters: 6 offensive (spread), 9 defensive (3-3)

Players to watch

  • QB/LB Tye Griffin, Sr., 6-3, 190 (5 of 10, 66 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 175 tackles)
  • OL/DL Dustin House, Sr., 6-3, 255 (60 tackles, 11 for loss)
  • RB Caleb Williams, Sr., 5-9, 185 (35 carries, 420 yards, 6 TDs; 3 KOR TDs)
  • DL Tre Hatton, Jr., 6-0, 235 (35 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 sacks)
  • DB Cory Winks, Jr., 5-8, 150 (1 receiving TD; 72 tackles, 1 INT)
  • OL J.J. Kummer, Sr., 6-4, 240
  • OL Will Marshall, Sr., 5-10, 195
  • WR/DB Gage Hart, Sr., 6-2, 170 (2 INTs; 24 punts, 34.4 average, 50 long)
  • WR Stetson Hoskins, Sr., 5-11, 165 (11 catches, 198 yards, 1 TD)
  • K Victor Pizano, Sr., 5-10, 180 (24-for-36 PATs)
  • QB Ozzie Bucker, Soph., 5-10, 180
  • DL Jessie Davis, Sr., 6-0, 210
  • LB Martez Allen, Sr., 5-9, 160
  • OLB Hunter Mewbourne, Sr., 5-10, 175
  • LB Zack Wright, Sr., 5-11, 210
  • LB Charles Minchew, Jr., 5-11, 200
  • DL Jordan Chalk, Sr., 5-11, 200
  • DL Kyle Allen, Sr., 6-4, 170

Strengths: Defensive front, special teams. Frankston will have proven stalwarts at defensive line and linebacker in Dustin House and Tye Griffin, who might take over quarterbacking duties as well. With House and Tre Hatton back on the defensive line, that should free up Frankston’s linebackers even more than a season ago, when Griffin accumulated huge tackle numbers. With nine defensive starters back, the Indians should improve significantly on the 32.1 points per game they allowed in 2011. Caleb Williams gives Frankston a home-run threat in the return game, and Gage Hart had a solid 2011 campaign punting the ball. If Victor Pizano improves after another offseason under his belt, Frankston will have very good special teams.

Weaknesses: Offensive continuity. Six starters are back, but two huge voids must be filled in the backfield. The Indians’ season hinges on their ability to cope with the losses of quarterback Michael Warren (Rice) and tailback Treston Coleman (UTSA), a dynamic duo who guided the Tribe to 35.2 points per game last season. Williams could be the heir apparent to Coleman’s legacy after averaging 12 yards per carry in limited action a season ago. His nine total touchdowns, three of which came on kickoff returns, prove he’s got the speed needed to be a playmaker at the running back position. Whoever gets the starting backfield nods will have some veterans blocking for them, particularly House and J.J. Kummer, who give the Tribe good size on the offensive front.

2012 Outlook: Frankston overcame a slow start to the 2011 season to reach the playoffs before losing in a shootout to New Waverly. The Indians might not be able to stomach such a tepid beginning in 2012, when they’ll be forced to overhaul a stellar backfield that helped them outgun a few opponents a year ago. But the defensive front should be vastly improved with plenty of veterans back and last year’s experience. Challenging Arp for the District 10-2A Division II championship isn’t likely, but the Tribe could very well find itself back in the postseason picture. Frankston could be 2-1 in league play entering the final weeks of the regular season, when the Indians host Garrison and travel to West Rusk in what are probably swing games in the 10-2A D-II playoff race.

3.West Rusk Raiders

Coach: John Frazier (sixth season, 39-18)

2011 Record: 4-7 (2A Division II Region III bi-district finalist; lost 70-49 Corrigan-Camden)

Returning starters: 7 offensive (pistol), 8 defensive (split)

Players to watch

  • QB Cayle Bickham, Sr., 5-10, 155 (43 of 87, 780 yards, 9 TDs; 76 carries, 519 yards)
  • WR/DB Marqualin Grant, Sr., 5-11, 145 (9 catches, 129 yards; 2 INTs)
  • RB George Anthony, Jr., 5-11, 205 (153 carries, 1,064 yards, 12 TDs)
  • DE Tristan Edwards, Sr., 6-4, 200 (71 tackles, 3 sacks)

Strengths: Backfield, experience. George Anthony is primed to have a huge season. Anthony had a breakout sophomore campaign after playing as a freshman on varsity in 2010. Anthony’s 7.0 yards per carry may increase with more experience and six fellow offensive starters back, including backfield mate Cayle Bickham at quarterback. Bickham was a running threat himself, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and accounting for almost 1,300 total yards. But Anthony will be West Rusk’s workhorse, and his 5-11, 205-pound frame makes him more than capable of carrying the load. A strong running game should help a veteran defense that has eight returning starters who will try to improve on last season’s up-and-down performance.

Weaknesses: Defense. While eight starters return for sixth-year coach John Frazier, those eight were part of a unit that yielded 37.2 points per game in 2011, when the Raiders allowed at least 56 points three times. That includes the 70-point effort Corrigan-Camden notched in a three-touchdown, first-round playoff win. Tristan Edwards will need to lead the way for West Rusk’s defensive front if the Raiders are to turn the tide in 2012.

2012 Outlook: Like Frankston, West Rusk probably won’t challenge Arp for the District 10-2A Division II crown, although the Raiders will get their shot in a Saturday night game Oct. 6 in Longview’s Lobo Stadium. The swing games come at the end of the schedule with a bye week sandwiched between an Oct. 26 trip to Garrison and the regular-season finale at home against Frankston. That game should have huge implications on the district playoff race. West Rusk’s non-district schedule will prepare the Raiders for the league grind and any potential first-round playoff matchup. West Rusk will need big improvements defensively and consistent health from its blossoming skill position players to get beyond that.

4.Garrison Bulldogs

Coach: Craig Barker (first season)

2011 Record: 12-2 (1A Division I state semifinalist; lost 46-14 to Mason)

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Logan Clark, Jr., 5-10, 181 (67 carries, 528 yards, 10 TDs)
  • WR/DB Cameron Rodriguez, Jr., 6-0, 185 (25 catches, 518 yards, 6 TDs; 75 tackles, 4 INTs)
  • CB Hunter Key, Sr., 6-1, 170 (6 INTs)
  • OL/DT Josh Robison, Jr., 5-11, 246 (40 pancakes)
  • LB Paul Stokes, Sr., 5-10, 155 (104 tackles)
  • DT Robert Bryant, Soph., 6-2, 255 (21 tackles)
  • OG Quin Gates, Sr., 5-10, 225

Strengths: Secondary, defensive line. Six defensive starters return for first-year coach Craig Barker, who arrives in Garrison after serving as Henderson’s offensive coordinator. The bulk of those six returnees come in the secondary and on the defensive line, where Josh Robison and Robert Bryant give the Bulldogs good bulk to counter District 10-2A Division II’s various strong rushing attacks. If somebody decides to throw against Garrison, they’ll have to deal with Cameron Rodriguez and Hunter Key, two defensive backs who combined for 10 interceptions during Garrison’s run to the 2011 Class A Division I state semifinals.

Weaknesses: Backfield. Quarterback Dustin Strahan and tailback Nathan Burkhalter were the headliners of Garrison’s 12-win team last season, helping the Bulldogs average 39.2 points per game and eclipse the 51-point mark six times in their final 10 contests. Both graduated and leave huge voids. Burkhalter’s spot appears in better shape than the QB position. Logan Clark flashed some ability as a sophomore, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and scoring 10 rushing touchdowns. He could be the new Bulldog go-to back.

2012 Outlook: If realignment had kept Garrison in Class A, the Bulldogs would probably be reloading for another playoff run. Since they’ve been bumped up to Class 2A, fighting for a playoff spot will be more realistic. Garrison has succeeded as a 2A school. The Bulldogs won the 2003 2A Division I state championship, and they were 3-0 against 2A non-district opponents last season (beat Hemphill 35-14, Winnsboro 19-18 and San Augustine 59-29. San Augustine is dropping to 1A). But losing the playmakers who graduated will make the move to a larger classification much more difficult. Garrison will find out if it’s a 2A playoff contender early with a brutal non-district slate including trips to Tenaha and San Augustine and home games against Hemphill and Bullard Brook Hill. If the skill positions come around, Garrison could throw a wrench in Frankston and West Rusk’s postseason plans.

5.Union Grove Lions

Coach: Roger Adams (first season; 62-54 overall)

2011 Record: 3-7

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/LB Garrett Gibson, Jr., 6-0, 200 (58 carries, 364 yards, 6 TDs; 89 tackles)
  • WR Robert Wagner, Sr., 6-1, 175 (8 catches, 224 yards, 3 TDs)
  • C Codi Davis, Sr., 5-10, 225
  • TE Dillon Jarvis, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • QB Dakota Wills, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • RB Jacob Eads, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • OL Cash Young, Sr., 6-0, 240
  • DE Thomas Rodgers, Sr., 6-1, 220
  • DL Andrew O’Donnell, Sr., 6-1, 220

Strengths: Running game. A high-volume ball carrier does not return for Union Grove, but Garrett Gibson could be that if new coach Roger Adams, formerly the head coach at Hallsville and New Diana, wants Gibson to fill that role. Gibson averaged 6.3 yards per carry in limited rushes as a sophomore while spearheading the Lions’ defense at linebacker. Jacob Eads gives Union Grove another possibility in the ground game.

Weaknesses: Defense. Union Grove has six defensive starters back, but they were part of a unit that yielded 31.6 points per game a year ago, including 35 per game against four teams that will inhabit the new District 10-2A Division II with the Lions. Union Grove allowed 42.7 per contest to West Rusk, Frankston and Arp.

2012 Outlook: Union Grove has a decent number of experienced starters back and a new coach who has turned around a Class 4A program and taken it to the playoffs after years of being an also-ran. Adams took Hallsville to the playoffs three times in seven seasons, snapping a 17-year playoff drought in his second campaign with the Bobcats. He faces an even more daunting postseason drought at Union Grove: 43 seasons (1968). Don’t expect that streak to end in 2012, although the groundwork could be laid to aim for a streak-buster in the next couple of years.

6.Winona Wildcats

Coach: Scott Evans (second season, 1-9)

2011 Record: 1-9

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • OT Ronnie Marsh, Sr., 6-2, 265
  • OG Chason Guthrie, Sr., 6-1, 260
  • RB KeAaron Cobb, Jr., 5-9, 185 (137 carries, 737 yards, 5 TDs)
  • C Chris Allen, Sr., 6-0, 215
  • OG Carlos Gonzalez, Sr., 5-9, 205
  • RB Jacob Moseley, Sr., 6-1, 205
  • WR Jared Mitchem, Sr., 5-8, 165
  • RB Derek Middleton, Sr., 5-9, 180
  • RB Dee Jackson, Soph., 5-10, 190
  • OL Cristian Mendez, Jr., 5-9, 205
  • WR Colby Slayton, Jr., 6-1, 185
  • WR Kevron Jackson, Jr., 6-3, 190
  • DT Brodrick Thompson, Sr., 5-9, 190
  • LB Corey Campbell, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • S Deantawn Hopkins, Jr., 5-9, 155
  • LB Kyle Boyd, Soph., 5-9, 205
  • DT Chance Nichols, Sr., 5-9, 205
  • DB Corey Jackson, Jr., 5-9, 165

Strengths: Running game. Ronnie Marsh and Chase Guthrie are the core of an offensive line with good size that could usher KeAaron Cobb to a big junior season. Cobb had a solid sophomore season and should only be better in 2012, especially with five fellow returning starters surrounding him.

Weaknesses: Consistency. Winona had good efforts sprinkled in during the 2011 schedule, such as the close season-opening loss to T.K. Gorman, its lone win against Queen City and respectable district losses to Union Grove and West Rusk. The Wildcats need more consistency on both sides of the ball to have more of those games in which they can at least hang around. If the offense is clicking, that keeps the defense off the field, which would be a welcome site for a unit returning eight starters and spent plenty of time on the field, resulting in 33.5 points per game allowed.

2012 Outlook: Another team with a lengthy playoff drought, Winona probably won’t be the District 10-2A Division II playoff picture. Winona hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1994 and with four legitimate playoff contenders at the top of the district, the Wildcats are still long shots at reaching the postseason.

7.Hawkins Hawks

Coach: Marty Moore (first season)
2011 Record: 1-9
Players to watch

  • TE/DE John Michael Gattis
  • WR/DB Tim McGraw
  • OL/DL Jacob Dannenberg
  • RB Chris Beall

Strengths: Skill positions. Chris Beall saw some time running the ball a year ago, and John Michael Gattis and Tim McGraw will give whoever plays quarterback a couple of veteran pass-catchers.

Weaknesses: Line play. Gattis and Jacob Dannenberg give first-year coach Marty Moore a couple of key pieces to build a defensive line, but the Hawks need players to emerge as capable blockers for Beall. The importance of winning at the line of scrimmage can never be overstated. Reversing last year’s fortunes, which led to the Hawks scoring seven points or fewer eight times (five shutouts), would get Hawkins on the right track under a new coaching staff.

2012 Outlook: Moore, who spent the past 10 years leading Union Grove (37-63), replaces Keith Cook, who led Hawkins to a 26-47 record seven seasons, including three first-round playoff appearances. But jumping from Class A to Class 2A isn’t the ideal way to follow a 1-9 season. Moore kept Union Grove competitive in a lot of its games, including games in which the Lions maybe shouldn’t have been competitive. Instead of worrying about a hard-to-imagine playoff berth, Hawkins should probably hope its new coach can do the same for the Hawks right now.